Colin Kaepernick has been abstaining from standing for the national anthem. Self-styled patriots have been losing their minds over it. That is because they are true believers in a cult. The cult is the State.
All states are cults: religions. And like all religions, states have sacraments, including holy rituals. The national anthem is one of the holy ritual sacraments of the cult of the American State. Those fully initiated and indoctrinated in that cult have been programmed to go into attack mode when divergent cult members (heretics) fail to observe such sacraments, like the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance to the holy pole cloth. Such peer pressure is how cults maintain their numbers.
Voting is another one of those sacramental rituals. As with the national anthem and pledge of allegiance, true believers are aghast when you advocate abstention from voting. School, which is our chief initiation into the State cult, thoroughly and universally indoctrinates its initiates into the sacrament of voting and democracy. We’ve all been brainwashed from the time we were tiny children into the holy myth of democracy: that democracy is what makes us special, what makes America exceptional; that patriots suffered and died for democracy, from the Suffragettes to the Civil Rights movement, from the Revolution to the Civil War to World War II to the War on Terror; that through voting we are empowered to fight for what’s right, to make our country, our very lives, better. You can see how important this sacrament is to the State cult from all of the voting propaganda pushed by the government and the establishment media.
But here’s the thing. Like all mystic rituals, the ritual of voting is based on superstition. Like an incantation or a rain dance, it is based on the superstition that great good can come of a mere gesture. Just as the rain dancer thinks he can summon rain that will save his crops, the voter thinks he can summon reform that will save his country.
But again, it’s a superstition. The individual act of voting is futile. Elections are virtually never decided by a single vote. You’re more likely to die on the way to the polling place than affect the outcome of an election. You know it’s futile. You know that in previous elections the outcome wouldn’t have been any different had you not voted. You know the same will be true for future elections.
Yes, in aggregate voting makes a difference. But that’s a different question. When you’re deciding whether to vote, you’re making an individual decision, not an aggregate one.
Perhaps you think that by voting at least you’re doing your small part, making your small contribution. But contributing toward what?
Imagine a giant siege engine that takes millions of people to push. Imagine if millions of people together purposefully pushed the engine to run over a group of innocent people tied up on the ground. Did those people die accidentally or were they murdered? If they were murdered, they were murdered by somebody. So by whom? The millions who pushed, of course. Even though any given individual’s decision whether to push or not didn’t make a difference one way or the other, every individual who pushed bears as much guilt as anybody else who pushed. Such an action is non-decisive, yet culpable at the same time.
Now imagine if there were two groups of tied-up victims. Millions are pushing the siege engine to the left, trying to steer it away from Group A and toward Group B. Millions of others are pushing to the right, away from Group B and toward Group A. One side prevails, and Group B is crushed to death. These helpless victims were murdered, just as much as the victims in the previous scenario were. By whom? By the millions who pushed the engine in their direction. This is true, even if their primary goal for pushing in that direction was to save the lives of Group A.
That’s effectively what you’re doing when you throw your weight behind a candidate or behind most forms of legislation. Candidates are package deals. Any candidate will violate the rights of some, even if they respect or defend the rights of others.
Objectors say it’s about going in the general right direction, making choices out of which the good outweighs the bad, that do a net amount of good, that is good “on balance.” But that is collectivist speak. There is no “good on balance” for the people whose lives are run over by the candidate you empowered: for the child who is bombed by Hillary’s foreign policy, for the man who is shot by Trump’s police state, or the people Gary Johnson and Bill Weld kept in cages when they were governors.
Objectors call it self-defense. But anti-war people should know better than anybody that collateral damage is never justified by self-defense. Objectors also say they are not responsible for the crimes committed by the office holders they voted for. But you can’t have it both ways. Either your vote doesn’t matter and it’s futile, or your vote matters and you’re culpable. (Although, again, I argue that you’re also culpable even though your vote is futile.)
Don’t fall for the lie that you’re limited to choosing the lesser of multiple evils. You’re not limited to pushing the engine in the direction of one group of victims or another, or even toward a third smaller group of victims. You can abstain from pushing at all. You can refuse to lend your weight to the State. It’s true that a single act of abstention alone won’t make a difference as to whether people get run over, or regarding who gets run over. But neither will pushing in one direction or another: neither will voting. So you may as well choose the option that doesn’t even negligibly contribute to injustice.
Not only do you have the option of merely abstaining from pushing, you can actually work to obstruct the siege engine, or to even dismantle it. Even the mere act of abstaining from voting contributes to the grand project of obstructing and dismantling the State. That is because voting is not just a ritual. It’s a power ritual.
In a sense, all cult rituals are power rituals. They are about building and maintaining the power of the cult’s leadership, or the religion’s priesthood, over the lives of the cult’s rank and file members. Rituals do this by solidifying the adherents’ faith in the cult’s god. The cult’s priesthood poses as representatives and agents for this god. In the case of modern, secular political religions, the cult god is the State itself, which is an incoherent notion of the “general will” made manifest: a mythical abstraction that somehow acts for the good of the people. The government poses as the priesthood of this deity.
Sacraments like the anthem, the pledge, and voting are so important to the government because they are what continually reinforce our faith in the State. Voting is particularly similar to holy communion. Voters line up at the polling booth to partake of divinity, believing that by participating in their own rule, they become one with the saving State they so adore.
This participation is a form of buy-in. It causes the voter to identify with the government — the captives to identify with their captors. The State is the Stockholm Syndrome institutionalized. And the higher the turnout, the greater the perceived legitimacy granted to the government priesthood.
Objectors say they are voting merely out of pragmatism and don’t intend to convey legitimacy to the government. But your intention is not the issue. The issue is the actual effect. It’s a simple fact that the government is able to use high turnout to convince its subjects that it represents the popular will — even to the subjects who voted for a losing candidate. It doesn’t matter that only individuals have wills, and so “the popular will” is an incoherent concept. What matters is that many people believe in it, and believe that high turnout signifies that the voice of the popular will has spoken.
Just think: how convincing would a democratic government’s claim to legitimacy be with a 1% turnout vs. a 99% turnout, even if that 99% turnout was split down the middle? And what’s true of the extremes is also true of the gradations.
Again, by voting you lend your weight to the State. You lend your weight to directing it toward certain victims. You also lend your weight to its sheer power and mass. By abstaining from voting, you dwindle the plausibility of the government’s claim to legitimacy and thus dwindle its power.
Obstructing and dismantling such a huge thing as the State is also an effort that takes millions. So your contribution toward even that is negligible in the grand scheme of things. But at least you would be making a negligible contribution, to a noble effort, a moral project, and not to an immoral, pernicious system.